Frequently Asked Questions

How do I know my tax dollars will be used wisely?

State law legally limits these funds for emergency communications. An Advisory Committee of local first responders and leaders will provide guidance to the County Council on the highest emergency communication needs in open public meetings before funds are spent.


How much is 1/10th of 1%?

That’s 10¢ for each $100.00 spent on taxable retail purchases (not on food and drugs that are exempt).


Don’t E-911 taxes cover this?

E-911 funds the telephone system that you call for help and the technology that aids knowing where you are so help can find you. It does not support the radio system.


Why do responders use radios?

Radios are the most durable, reliable and effective way for responders to communicate traveling to and at emergency scenes. Radios also reach less populated areas out-of-range to most cell phone service.


Will this add to my local property tax bill?



If approved, when will the sales tax go into effect?

It will begin to be collected April 1, 2019 if a majority of voters approve Proposition 1.


What happens if Proposition 1 fails? Is there a Plan B?

There is no other alternative to accomplish the same goal of moving to a single income source that treats the entire county equitably while streamlining the process for ongoing improvement and expansion of the 911 emergency radio system.


How much does a durable first responder radio cost?

First responder radios must withstand heat, water, and impact beyond the use of an average user. Individual radios of this quality off the shelf can cost approximately $7,500 each. This proposal will allow for bulk purchases greatly reducing the cost.

When a radio fails, firefighters cannot stop fighting a fire or police officers cannot stop chasing a criminal to find a replacement. Durable and reliable models are necessary for first responders to do their job of keeping the public safe.

The number of radios needed is being collected now to best negotiate the cost per radio with the vendor. There are more than 5,000 radios in use today by the sheriff’s department, city police officers and local firefighters. The 911 emergency radio system also covers the county’s Department of Emergency Management.


How much will this new radio system cost?

Estimates are up to $70 million. Talks are underway now to refine those estimates with the vendor picked through a competitive bid process earlier this year.


If voters approve the tax in November, how soon will the new radio system be operational?

First responders are expected to transition to the improved system in 2021.  Staff has been diligently preparing to be ready to start the design phase in December 2018. Design and construction is expected to consume 12 months. After the design, it will be about a year for the system to be deployed and tested before first responders begin to use it in 2021. If approved, the sales tax takes effect April 1, 2019.


How many calls does this system answer?

It answers about 7 million annually with an average of 19,000 radio transmissions daily. As the county’s population continues to grow those numbers are expected to increase.


Who says the system needs to be replaced?

Almost 20 years ago community leaders came together to ensure your call to 911 is heard and brings help. As happens with most things, time has worn down this system making it less dependable and outdated. Aging equipment has led to outages including a failure in January that affected 400,000 people in many communities. It lasted nearly 20 minutes. Compounding this problem is the lack of parts to replace failing components and manufacturers will stop supporting much of the equipment in 2020. In addition, an independent verification of the need for this upgrade was validated by Stantec, a wireless communications consulting company.


Why is a permanent sales tax being proposed?

The Sales Tax is a uniform collection method that is county-wide – much like the 911 system itself.  Everyone uses it, and so everyone pays the same share in operations, maintenance, and expansion.  In addition, the Sales Tax means that anyone doing business in Snohomish County will help support the system, including tourists and other people who also use 911 services.  A reliable source of revenue will allow for maintaining of the system, planning for growth and ensuring the 911 service continue to provide the service our citizens expect when calling 911.


After the emergency radio system is upgraded, what else will the tax be used for?

The planned upgrade to the radio system will “modernize” the existing system in many ways, but there are many places where radio service is still limited and needs to be improved.  In addition, modern building construction requires additional radio service to provide in-building performance where it is lacking today.  Simply put, there are many needed areas for expansion and improvement of emergency communications.

The system that we use today was designed in 2001… much has changed since then, so the system needs to catch up.  In addition to the mission of the 911 emergency radio system, local police and fire agencies can use this income source to improve their emergency communications as well.  Further validating the need for this funding will continue even after the radio system project is completed.


Why 1/10th of 1%… do we need that much?

The state law that allows for the collection of this tax – which is used only for emergency communications purposes – is fixed at this amount.  It is not an option to utilize this existing law for a lesser percentage.  It is important to use this law as the primary method of collection to ensure to the taxpayer that the funds collected will go to their intended purpose.


How can I be sure that the funds will support the 911 system and not something else?

By law, it is limited to emergency communications services so it cannot be re-purposed to some other program.  An advisory committee will be established in (found in the same Ordinance that creates the authority to collect the tax) that will review the county’s emergency communications priorities and make recommendations to the County Council.  The advisory committee is composed of county-wide representation of police, fire, and city leadership.


How much will the tax generate a year?

The exact numbers will fluctuate based on consumer spending but estimates now are 12-14 million dollars.


Didn’t anyone see this coming … why didn’t you save for it?

SERS began its work in 2013 identifying a replacement process.  During the past five years alternate technologies (such as cellular phones) have been evaluated, opportunities for partnership/cost-sharing investigated, and a variety replacement options reviewed.  All of these efforts were completed to ensure that we were moving ahead with the method that provided the best benefit to the public safety agencies and citizens in the county.

SERS was founded with a funding model that worked when the system was initially deployed – as the system was built in phases. A variety of individual payers funded those phases as each came online. The entire county is now on a single system covering most of the populated areas. It isn’t in the best interest of the safety of our citizens’ safety to upgrade bit by bit, geographic area by area.  Upgrading with the old model would mean that portions of the county that now have the ability to communicate in an emergency would then be limited degrading the 911 services citizens expect and count on today.

The change to a sales tax provides a reliable funding source which allows better planning for current and future needs.


Where does the emergency radio network get its funding now?

Each agency – primarily police and fire departments – are assessed a fee each year for the 911 emergency radio system. That fee is determined by a variety of factors including calls for service, population and size of the area served by the agency.  The agencies also have a say in the allowable growth of the SERS budget and what it can be used for via the SERS Governing Board.


Is this the system that broadcasts Amber Alerts and puts those noisy tests on television?

Our network is used primarily by the first responders coming to your aid when you dial 911. It does not broadcast Amber Alerts or test emergency communications through your television. After police and fire crews are dispatched they often used the emergency radio system to coordinate with other responding crews as well as seek additional help or equipment while on scene


Is this improved radio system going to be used to implement encryption and lock out the public using scanners?

The new system will be digital and can be heard on a P-25 digital capable scanner so no one is locked out. Encryption is available now and will be with the improved system. It is used primarily only for first responder safety and the privacy of citizens like yourself, i.e. HIPAA


Since a new radio system will have defined cost at what point will the tax no longer be needed?

The sales tax proposed via the County Council resolution does not have a sunset or expiration date, nor does the Washington State Law that it utilizes.  While SERS cannot speak on behalf of the Council, we do however believe that their vision is to provide a secure, dedicated funding stream for the on-going support and growth of emergency communication services throughout the county – which doesn’t exist today.

The ordinance is not written specifically for SERS or any agency, and this was done by design to ensure that any and all agencies who provide emergency communication services can benefit from this source.  As soon as our project is complete, the County Council – who will be advised by a committee composed of fire, law, and other representatives – can decide which of the next major emergency communication services improvement projects can begin.  The communication needs of our agencies are numerous and diverse, so there are many to select.


Why not use a new technology called FirstNet?

Thanks for your question Michal.  FirstNet is an interesting new technology; however there are some major considerations that do not make FirstNet a viable option at this time.


First and foremost is the ruggedness of today’s cell phones. Even if you compared the most durable phones on the market, they do not compare to the models offered in the land mobile radio market. Resistance to heat and water (critical to firefighters) and noise cancellation technology are far superior in radios than any model on FirstNet today.


Also, the ergonomics and features of the FirstNet devices do not match what the agencies currently use, train with, and currently identify as practical given their current operations. Even with the adoption of soon to be released “Mission-Critical Push To Talk” standard, SERS does not expect full parity with the features that our agencies demand. Also, the service-level/availability agreements that FirstNet can offer still need to be determined.


SERS is very interested in new options and continues to work with outside agencies like FirstNet to foster an adoption of future technologies as they are available and validated to meet the demands of our agencies.


If you started looking at replacement in 2013, why did it take five years to identify a replacement process?

It took that much time to get: 1) Consensus on what the viable options were in terms of technology, 2) Survey all of our agencies to understand their needs, 3) Understand the different options that we had in terms of purchasing a replacement system, and 4) Follow the applicable laws regarding the procurement process (i.e. competitive bids and such). SERS has more than 40 agencies to coordinate as well as making sure that we are following all rules and guidelines. SERS not only looked internally (i.e within the County), but we also reached out to other county governments and agencies to learn their approaches. We wanted to ensure that we had explored all of the options and had a united decision county-wide on what the solution should be.


Why is there a wait till 2021 until first responders could transition to the improved system?

If Proposition 1 passes, SERS will begin work immediately by contracting with our selected vendor this year. The reason why it takes so long to deploy a network like ours is primarily due to three factors:

1. Weather – many of our sites are in difficult to reach places, that do impact out ability to work on them between September and April of every year

2. Cost – In order to keep the costs down and a high-level of quality, the system is actually pre-built to fully test the system and perform much of the labor before the equipment is located into the “hard to access” places.

3. Quality Control – When deploying a network such as ours, we have to ensure that it is fully functional and reliable, so a high-degree of pre-testing (including coverage testing which involves driving the entire county) is done once the network is installed.

This is above and beyond the additional training required by our agencies. SERS will be looking to improve on this at every opportunity, but we also must ensure that everything works on day one.